Many people have emailed me in the past to ask this simple question:
“How exactly do I go about getting into rehab?”
Furthermore, many people don’t even have a simple understanding of how treatment may work for them. They may also be under the impression that they could never be successful at treatment.
Ultimately there is no great mystery to the treatment process.
You simply surrender to your disease, and ask for help.
You listen to what other people tell you to do, and then you do it.
But you have to ask for help, and you cannot really do that (honestly) until you become willing.
It all starts with willingness.
Developing willingness based on surrender
Before you can become willing and get the help that you need you have to surrender. This is first and foremost because if you do not surrender then you are just going to be spinning your wheels in early recovery. In fact, most people at treatment have not yet fully surrendered. Walk into any treatment center and probably at least 90 percent of the residents have not yet reached a point of total surrender. They are mostly fooling themselves because they are not happy with their life, but they are not so miserable yet as to become willing to take massive action.
How much change are you willing to embrace in order to recover? How much disruption are you willing to embrace? This is what recovery is: Disruption. You can’t just quit drinking. If it were that easy, anyone could just do it and the treatment and rehab industry would not be nearly as big as it is. But the fact is that this is a tough problem to crack (no matter who you are!) and therefore the treatment and rehab industry continues to struggle to help people as best it can.
What is disruption? It is changing everything–all at once, in huge sweeping changes. You can’t just avoid the corner bar. If that is where you hung out and drank every day, simply avoiding it is not going to be enough. This is just one tiny change. Not enough to overcome alcoholism or addiction. No, you have to go further than this. You have to change everything–people, places, things, behaviors, thoughts, reactions, how you deal with your feelings, how you have fun in your free time, how you deal with other people in your life, how you deal with stress, and so on. You have to learn all of that stuff and a whole lot more. In fact this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to succeed in recovery then you have to get really used to disruption.
When I first attempted to get sober I went to a rehab for like a week or something. I thought that was a pretty big time investment (how little did I know). Needless to say I walked out of that first rehab and I relapsed almost immediately. I was not willing to follow through with anything that I learned in treatment. I was expecting a cure, not a bunch of footwork that needed to be done. How little I knew!
Later on I went to a second treatment center and they suggested that I live in long term treatment after I got done with their 28 day program. I had gone to this second rehab center based on an intervention that my family had done. Again, I was not ready to surrender yet and I was not willing to make massive changes in my life. I was not willing to embrace disruption. For example, I was still working as a pizza delivery driver and I thought that this was the greatest job in the world. I was annoyed that people expected me to go live in long term rehab and give up my precious job as a pizza delivery driver.
Finally after much more pain and misery in my life due to my addiction and alcoholism, I finally became willing to go to rehab a third time. This time I was at a point of total surrender and therefore I was willing to take massive action. I was willing to do things that I was not willing to do in the past. I was willing to go to nearly any length because I was so sick and tired of being miserable.
This is the great secret to developing willingness–you must become miserable enough based on your addiction, then you have to realize that your addiction really is the source of all your misery. This can be difficult for people who are still in denial. They may be placing blame on others and blaming them for their unhappiness.
This is an important distinction on the road to surrender. It is not enough to realize that you are miserable. You have to go a step further than that and admit and accept that your addiction is what is driving your misery. Most alcoholics find it very difficult to admit that this is a possibility, because they tend to focus on the positive memories that they have with alcohol rather than the negative ones. So they remember the good times that they have had with drinking and they tend to minimize and ignore the consequences. Of course at some point they may be sitting in jail as a direct result of their drinking or addiction and it will be very difficult for them to keep their denial going. But some people maintain it even then, continuing to blame others for their misery and their addiction.
If you want to break through denial, focus on your misery. Embrace it. Explore it. Stop denying it.
Forced into treatment?
Can you be forced into treatment?
Will that even work?
In some very rare cases it may work for some people who are forced to sober up against their will. But for the most part you are not going to “cure” anyone by forcing them into rehab. You would have to get pretty lucky for an alcoholic to surrender at the same time that you force them into rehab.
Otherwise what will happen is that the alcoholic who is forced into rehab will simply resent the entire situation, and they will then relapse as soon as they have the chance to do so.
The way to get someone else to go to treatment is generally not to force them into it. An intervention may be appropriate, but note that successful interventions are mostly a result of lucky timing. Just because a family steps in and says that they care and want to see someone get better does not really tip the balance in favor of their success. What really matters (in all situations) is the willingness of the individual, and this is not going to change much based on a cheerleader session from their friends and family. Instead, their willingness is going to be directly related to their level of surrender, and that level of surrender is going to be determined by the amount of misery that they have gone through and endured. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is their level of denial, and how much they realize that their misery is a direct result of their addiction.
The alcoholic must surrender.
They must be willing.
They must realize that they are miserable, and that this misery is a result of their addiction.
Even if they admit to all of this verbally, they must internalize it to the point where they truly surrender and ask for help.
Getting on the phone and doing the footwork
My number one suggestion for you if you (or someone you love) is ready to go to treatment is for you get on the phone.
Seriously. Pick up the phone and start calling rehabs.
Do this immediately. I used to work at a treatment center and even when I was working on third shift sometimes I would still get the initial paperwork started for someone. Not that I could admit them instantly in the middle of the night based on a phone call, but I was at least able to talk with them, to get some of their information down, and to get the process started. You would be amazed at how much this can change someone’s outlook when they start taking positive action like this. It makes a difference. Your number one priority is to get on the phone and get the process started.
Realize that there may be some roadblocks. Getting into treatment may involve jumping through some hoops. It is not always going to be a smooth process for everyone in the world. It was not always smooth for me (though I am grateful for just how easy it really was, looking back now).
But the point is that you cannot just expect any rehab to send a limo out to get you the instant you call them up. They may have special requirements. They may not take your insurance. They may not be able to help you if you don’t have any insurance (but someone else probably can, so don’t give up!). They may have a waiting list. Most treatment centers schedule people in advance and if you want to attend you have to wait at least a week or two. This is not uncommon. But don’t let any of this deter you. If any of these “hoops” that you have to jump through become excuses for not attending treatment, then you are only hurting yourself in the long run. It is your responsibility to persist until you find someone who can help you.
And this is the entire point–you must persist until you find someone who can help you. Don’t be rude about it. Don’t demand help from anyone. Instead, be properly desperate. You are desperate for help, right? Because if you are not then you have no business going to rehab in the first place. I am not trying to be harsh in saying that, I am only being realistic. People who are arrogant, cocky, or demanding do not have any place going to rehab at that time. They are not ready to change. They have to be humble and desperate for help. You must be like a drowning man who has been thrown a lifesaver from a big ship. When you are in that position and you are clinging to life you do not get cocky or make demands or argue about which rehab center you will go to. That is a clear sign that you are not ready to change, that you are not in a position of full surrender.
You have to be willing to jump through hoops. Depending on your insurance and financial situation, you may have to apply for special funding. This is not a big deal, at least it was not a big deal where I went to rehab. You simply had to call the right agency and answer the questions they asked you. If you were honest and you really did not have insurance or any way to pay for treatment then they paid for it for you. This option was not available to everyone but it was available to most people. Almost no one slipped through the cracks from what I saw (and I worked in the rehab for 5+ years).
Of course times change and the market changes and money can get tighter, especially government money that is set aside to help drug addicts and alcoholics. So if someone offers to send you to rehab for free then I would be extremely grateful for that. It is a gift. And it is also a fairly expensive gift. Health care costs just continue to go up and up.
Of course you may call up a treatment center and they say you cannot come to them no matter what, you do not qualify and you do not have enough cash and you have no insurance. So this is not the end of it, this is just the beginning of your search for help. Politely ask them if they know if any other options, anyone else you can possibly call. Then get online and start searching for other rehabs in your area. Find out what you have to do to qualify for funding. Find out what you have to do in order to get the help that you need. Do not be pushy and do not be demanding. But be persistent, and try not to hang up with anyone unless you have a positive solution or another lead that might lead to one. Keep your research going until you find someone who can help you.
This is really the best way to get into rehab. Be persistent and don’t give up. And be exceedingly polite to the people on the phones. I used to be one of those people and so I know what it is like to try to help someone who is desperate and nice, and I know what it is like to help someone who is desperate but rude. So be nice, it helps! And don’t give up.
Planning for success
If you want to plan for a successful trip to rehab then there are certain things that you should consider:
1) Surrender fully and completely. Don’t go to rehab unless you are truly desperate for change.
2) Follow all of the rules in rehab and be truly humble. Really listen and try to learn from each person you encounter there.
3) Treat rehab as an opportunity and a gift. Accept it with gratitude.
4) Listen very carefully to your counselor or therapist that they assign to you. Learn as much as you can from them. Work with them. Be ruthlessly honest with them.
5) Do exactly what they recommend that you do for aftercare. Whatever they suggest for you, embrace it without hesitation.
6) Leave short term rehab and realize that the journey has just started. Leaving short term treatment is just the start of your recovery. You are nowhere near “cured.” You have a very long road in front of you, and the path to success is paved with personal growth. You have work to do.
7) Leave rehab and dive into your aftercare, full force. Dedicate your life to recovery. Your intensity level in this should be greater than anything you have ever attempted in the past. Embrace recovery. Embrace it more deeply than you have ever embraced anything in your life. Seriously, this is the level of dedication that you need to have.
What to expect from a trip to rehab
Mainstream media these days should already give you a decent idea of what it is like in residential treatment and detox. If you really have no idea what to expect then go watch a few episodes of A&E’s “Intervention” and then rent the movie 28 days and you will get a decent idea. I am completely serious about this, if are truly clueless about what rehab will be like and you are nervous, go seek out those programs and educate yourself a bit. They are not a completely accurate depiction but they are close enough to give you a general idea, and that is all you need to allay your fears.
Detox resembles a hospital in most cases. Nurses give you medications to keep you safe and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. After that you go to residential rehab and attend groups.
What you can do if no one will help you
If no one will help you then you just need to be persistent.
Remember to be polite. If you are polite and truly desperate for help then you can probably get more help than you realized in this sort of industry. It may not be the exact luxury rehab that you were counting on, but you can get help.
That is another important point: when help shows up, don’t turn your nose up at it. If you are truly desperate then you should appreciate any form of help that is available. Maybe you are drying out at home and someone offers to take you to an AA meeting. Don’t turn up your nose at this sort of thing! People are trying to extend a helping hand and you should embrace it.
Stay persistent and keep talking with people, asking for help, calling up rehabs, and so on, then you should find a way to get the help that you need eventually. There is a saying: “When the student is willing, the teacher appears.” I think this is especially true of recovery, because so much of it depends on surrender and willingness. It doesn’t really matter where you get help or which treatment center you attend, so long as you are truly willing to change.
This is the gift of desperation. When you are willing to change your life and you have completely surrendered, things will start to work out for you. You will probably be so miserable at that point so you will not even realize it at first, but things will finally start to improve in your life. As soon as you ask for help and start taking direction, life gets better–bit by bit. It does not happen overnight but it does happen. I can look back at my own moment of surrender and see how it all started there, in that one moment, and things just kept getting better and better from there on. That moment of surrender is the moment when my new life began.
This is how you get to treatment. Surrender. Surrender fully and completely. Then ask for help, and see where this takes you. Accept advice and direction willingly. Don’t turn up your nose at help. Things will improve from that moment forward, as you start on this new path in recovery.
Your new life can start right now, in this very instant, so long as you surrender.